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Quantum Field Theory and Strings for Mathematicians

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Edward Witten

In this lecture we will consider gauge symmetry breaking.

2.1. Gauge symmetry. Recall what gauge symmetry is. We have a spacetime

X = Rtime X0. We have a compact gauge group G. We have a eld theory where

a eld conguration is a connection is some principal bundle over Rd and possibly

some matter elds.

Recall the Hamiltonian approach to gauge theory. Let M~ 0 be the space of so-

lutions to the classical equations of motion. On M~ 0 we have an action of the

group G^ of gauge transformations. Let M0 M~ 0 be the space of all solutions

where the G-bundle is trivialized in the time direction, and the connection is trivial

in that direction. Such solutions as usual are completely determined by the pair

A(t0 ); dA

dt (t0 ), where t = t0 is a space cycle, and initial data for the matter elds. It

is clear that any element of M~ 0 can be brought to M0 by a gauge transformation,

so M0 still contains all solutions up to gauge transformations.

Suppose that X0 = Rd 1. In this case we may consider only trivial bundles, and

connections which vanish at spatial innity. In other words, if A is the space of

connections A on the trivial G-bundle over Rd 1 which vanish at 1 then M0 for

pure gauge theory is T A. If matter elds are present, then M0 is a product of

T A with some other space.

Dene G~ to be the group of elements of Maps(Rd 1; G) which have a limit at

innity, and G~ 0 to be the subgroup of G~ consisting of functions which tend to 1 at

1. We have G= ~ G~ 0 = G. This quotient group is called the group of constant gauge

transformations at 1 and called G1.

The group G~ acts symplectically on M0 . The physical phase space in gauge

theory is the symplectic quotient M = M0 ==G~ 0. Note that we only divide by G~ 0

and not by the whole group G~ , so that we inherit an action of the quotient G1 on

M . It is this symmetry group whose breaking we will discuss.

2.2. Breaking of gauge symmetry and charges at innity.

Denition. Suppose we have a (classical) gauge theory, and let s 2 M be its

vacuum state. Let H G = G1 be the stabilizer of s. In this case we will say that

at the vacuum state s the gauge symmetry is broken from G to H .

Thus, by symmetry breaking we mean essentially the same thing as for global

symmetry: there is a symmetry of the Poisson algebra of functions on M which

does not x a particular vacuum state.

Important remark. The above expression \the same thing " should be taken

with great care. There are some fundamental dierences between the two situations,

A S

Typeset by -T X

which will become clear below. They come from the fact that in the situation we

are considering here, (unlike Lecture II1) the physical observables, being gauge

invariant by denition, automatically commute with G and therefore do not, in

general, separate points on M ; i.e. not every function on M is \observable". In

other words, the action of G on the \theory" (in the sense of Lecture II1) is trivial

from the beginning.

Let us now compute the action of G (classically). First of all, we have a moment

map : M0 ! g~0 , where g~0 is the Lie algebra of G~ 0 { the algebra of functions from

Rn 1 to the Lie algebra g of G which vanish at innity. Thus, for any " 2 g~0 we

have a Hamiltonian Q(") 2 C 1(M0 ) dened by Q(")(X ) = (X )(").

In fact, it is easy to compute Q(") using Noether formalism. Namely,

Z

(2.1) Q(") = Tr ( @A

dt rA ") dd 1 x + matter terms ;

Rd 1

dt =

matter terms . In particular, in pure gauge theory rA dt = 0.

dA

Taking this into account, we see that on M

Z

(2.2) Q(") = Tr (rA (" dA d 1

dt ))d x:

Rd 1

Z Z

(2.3) Q(") = rlim dA

d 1Tr(" dt ) = rlim dTr("F );

!1 Sn 2 (r) !1 S n r

2( )

point of M0 , and S k (r) is the k-sphere of radius r. This formula denes the hamil-

tonians for the action of G = G1 on M .

This formula shows that Q(") vanishes for all gauge transformations (not nec-

essarily vanishing at innity) on a particular state if F = o(r2 n ), r ! 1 on that

state. However, if this is not the case, then Q(") may be nonzero for a constant ".

Example. Consider a U (1) gauge theory with a charged complex scalar. The

elds are a connection A on a hermitian line bundle and a section of this bundle.

The Lagrangian is

Z Z Z

(2.3) L = 4e2 F + jDA j d x + 8 (jj2 + v2 )2d4 x:

1 2 2 4

Here e; ; v are parameters and e2; are positive while v2 can be positive or negative.

For simplicity we assume rst that v2 6= 0.

This theory is not believed to exist in the UV, but we will regard it as an eective

theory for some more fundamental theory.

Classically (and quantum mechanically for e2 ; << 1) we have two cases.

1. v2 > 0; the potential has a single minimum.

2. v2 < 0; the potential has a circle of minima.

Let us consider how in these two cases the theory behaves in the infrared.

2

8

-1 -0.5 00 0.5 1

x

2

First consider the case when the gauge coupling vanishes: e2 = 0. In this case our

theory is a direct product of a pure (free) abelian gauge theory and the 4 theory.

Therefore, it has a unique vacuum, and the particles which occur at the lower part

of the spectrum are a massless vector, or gauge boson (coming from gauge theory)

and two massive real scalars (coming for 4 theory).

If we turn on small e2 the situation should remain the same. Indeed, certainly

nothing can happen to the massive scalars (the part of the Hilbert space with the

nonzero charge, where these scalars are, has a mass gap, and massiveness is an open

condition); moreover, their masses must be equal since there is a U (1) symmetry

at innity (the Q(") for constant ") which prohibits the masses to dier. The fact

that Q(") 6= 0 is clear since this is so at e2 = 0, when Q(") represents the U (1)

global symmetry.

Furthermore, the massless vectors cannot become massive. Indeed, recall that

a massless vector means an irreducible representation of SO(3; 1) with p2 = 0 and

spin 1, i.e. the space of sections of a 2-dimensional equivariant vector bundle over

the light cone. This vector bundle cannot be deformed to an equivariant vector

bundle over the hyperboloid, since the stabilizer group SO(3) of a point on the

hyperboloid does not have an irreducible 2-dimensional representation. Thus, the

quantum theory for small coupling will have the same particles { two massive scalars

(the real and imaginary part of ) and a massless vector (the gauge boson).

Remark. The above argument on non-deformability of a massless vector fails

in 3 and 2 dimensions. For example, in 3 dimensions, the massless vector is just the

space of functions over the cone, which can be successfully deformed into the space

of functions over a hyperboloid. This actuallyRhappens when in pure U (1) gauge

theory one introduces a Chern-Simons term c A ^ dA. The theory remains free

but becomes massive, yielding one massive scalar. In the theory we are considering

(for 3 dimensions), this cannot happen dynamically since the Chern-Simons term

is odd under change of orientation, but in other theories this could happen.

In fact, quantum mechanically the operator Q(") (for a suitable normalization

of ") has integer eigenvalues, and thus denes (in quantum theory) a Z-grading of

the corresponding Hilbert space. In particular, since Q(") 6= 0, there are sectors

of the Hilbert space which cannot be reached from the vacuum by applying local

operators. This shows that we have a fundamental violation of Wightman axioms:

the representation of the operator algebra in the physical Hilbert space is not irre-

ducible. However, the theory still has one vacuum only: the minimal energy in the

sectors with nonzero charge Q(") is positive.

3

8

-2 -1 00 1 2

x

Case 2. v < 0. Let v = b . Then classically we have a minimum of

2 2 2

energy on the circle jj = b. This implies that any nite energy conguration has

the property = bei0 at innity, where 0 is a constant. Therefore, by a gauge

transformation which has a nite limit at innity, we can arrange that is real and

positive: = b + w where w is a new real variable. Writing the Lagrangian in terms

of the new variables, we will get something with the following quadratic part:

Z Z Z

(2.4) 1

Lquadratic = 4e2 F + d x((dw) + M w ) + d4xb2 A2 :

2 4 2 2 2

It is seen from (2.4) than now all elds are massive. Of course, Lagrangian (2.4) is

not gauge invariant for A, since we have already \spent" the gauge symmetry on

making real.

Thus, infrared limit of the corresponding quantum theory is trivial for small

values of the couplings. In particular, there are no massless gauge bosons: they

have been \eaten" by the -eld. This situation is called Higgs phenomenon, or

spontaneous breaking of gauge symmetry.

Note that in spite of the presence of a circle of zero energy states, our theory

has only one vacuum. In other words, all points of the circle are regarded as

the same state, on the grounds that they are gauge equivalent to each other and

therefore dene equivalent realizations (i.e. give the same expectation values of

gauge invariant local operators) This is a fundamental dierence between gauge

and global symmetry breaking. In global symmetry breaking, the points of the

circle represent dierent vacua (realizations) of the theory, since there exist non-

symmetric operators which have dierent expectation values at dierent point of

the circle.

Note also that the operator Q(") doesn't act in the Hilbert space of states, since

classically Q(") generates a group which rotates the circle and permutes the zero

energy states. In particular, in this case local operators act irreducibly in the

Hilbert space, and there are no sectors which cannot be reached from the vacuum.

This is the dierence between case 2 and case 1: in case 1, as you remember, Q(")

acts in the Hilbert space nontrivially and denes a splitting into sectors.

Remark. If one tries to compute Q(") in Case 2 (when the symmetry is broken)

using formula (2.3), the answer will be zero since the integrand dies rapidly at

innity.

The particles which are found in the infrared in the situation of Case 2 are,

according to (2.4), a massive vector (A) and a massive scalar (). There is only

one scalar since is now real. Thus, at the level of representation theory the Higgs

4

phenomenon arising in Case 2 boils down to a deformation of representations of the

Poincare group: a massless vector plus a massless scalar is deformed to a massive

vector. Recall for comparison that a massless vector separately cannot be deformed

into a massive representation.

Finally, consider the special case v2 = 0. In this case classically we have no

symmetry breaking as for v2 > 0, and the particles are a massless vector and two

massless scalar. However, it is not expected to be the quantum answer, since this

conguration is not stable under perturbations.

Remark. If the Lagrangian we start with is not IR free (say, it is the Lagrangian

of an asymptotically free gauge theory) then the classical analysis we discussed

above does not apply in quantum theory. In this case the infrared behavior of the

theory is dicult to determine. In particular, it could happen that in the infrared

the gauge group of the ultraviolet theory will be replaced with some completely

dierent group, which is not even a subgroup in the original group.

2.3. Symmetry breaking and gauging. In conclusion, let us discuss the

connection between global symmetry and gauge symmetry breaking. Suppose we

have a Lagrangian L of a eld theory (say in 4 dimensions) which has a global U (1)

symmetry. A typical example is when the theory contains some scalar elds j

which are sections of hermitian vector bundles, and U (1) acts by multiplication of

these sections by einj This U (1) symmetry can be gauged, by introducing a U (1)

gauge eld A and new Lagrangian

Z

(2.5) 1

Lgauged = 4e2 FA2 + LA;

where LA is L in which all derivatives of j are replaced by covariant derivatives.

The statement is that if L is infrared free then for small gauge couplings the

symmetry breaking behavior of the theories dened by L and Lgauged is usually the

same. Namely, if there is breaking of global symmetry for L then there is breaking

of gauge symmetry for Lgauged and vice versa.

Indeed, let us consider both cases.

Case 1. No global symmetry breaking. In this case classically the minimum of

energy is at j = 0, and thus there is a U (1)-invariant vacuum. In quantum theory,

U (1) acts in the Hilbert space, and there are no massless particles (Goldstone

bosons) corresponding to U (1). In this case, for small gauge coupling e, the matter

part LA of the Lagrangian almost decouples from the gauge part; so classically we

get a massless gauge boson.

To consider the quantum mechanical situation, we assume that there are no

massless particles in the ungauged theory. In this case, the above classical an-

swer is also quantum mechanical for small couplings, by the non-defomability of

representations from massless to massive. However, if massless particles (say Gold-

stone bosons corresponding to other symmetries which are broken) are present, this

answer may not be true.

Case 2. Global symmetry breaking. In this case at the minimum of energy

some of the j is not zero. There is no invariant vacuum, and there is a Goldstone

boson corresponding to this symmetry breaking. In this case, pick a vacuum state

and a component (jn) which is not zero at this vacuum. In the gauged theory,

we can perform a gauge transformation which will make this component real and

positive. This shows that if there are no other massless particles (in particular, no

5

other broken global symmetries), all elds in the theory will become massive. This

happens classically, due to Higgs mechanism as in Case 2 above, and also quantum

mechanically for small couplings. Thus, we have breaking of gauge symmetry.

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